Israel's Pride

Two important conflicts have played out in the Land of Israel this past week. But first, a word from Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook:
Near the end of their journey in the desert, the Israelites arrived at Kadesh. But there was no water to drink, and the people complained bitterly. God commanded Moses to take his staff before the entire people and speak to the cliff-rock, to provide water for the nation. Moses took the staff and assembled the people. But he shouted,

"Listen now, you rebels! Shall we produce water for you from this cliff?" [Num. 20:10]

Moses then struck the cliff twice with the staff, and a huge amount of water gushed out. ...

According to Rav Kook, all religious rage, all intolerance for moral failings, is rooted in this display of anger by Moses. Instead of words of reconciliation, he shouted, "Listen now, you rebels!" Instead of speaking to the heart, he hit the rock. While righteous indignation stems from sincere and pure intentions, the highest goals of holiness will only be achieved through calm spirits and mutual respect.

In our generation, the instruction of Torah and its details involves a pedantic form of debate. Father and son, teacher and student, struggle and battle over Torah study. In the end, their mutual love returns; but the residual feelings of enmity are never completely erased.

The restoration of the peaceful ways of Torah will come through the prophet Elijah, who "shall turn the heart of fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers." [Malachi 3:24]

Rav Kook, who is widely regarded as the founder of religious Zionism (and who's one of my personal heroes), embodied an extraordinary combination of idealism and pragmatism, nationalism and universalism, mysticism and rationalism. One of his greatest strengths was his ability to build bridges between seemingly antagonistic parties. The optimism and magnanimity of spirit that enabled him to do this is evident in the passage I've quoted here.

In Jerusalem this week, the annual controversy over the city's gay pride parade ran its course. Regular readers of Dreams Into Lightning will know that I have sympathies on both sides of the issue, and I posted extensively on the controversy last year. This year, the event seems almost anti-climactic. Here is the Jerusalem Post article:
"Jerusalem of Gold," the ballad that united Israelis following the Six Day War, once again echoed in the streets of the capital as both gay rights activists and religious counterprotesters used the song as their anthem.

The point of unity may have been unintentional, but was not entirely surprising, as both the protesters and the marchers acknowledged that the theme of the parade was more about its Jerusalem location than its message of gay pride.

"When we march in Tel Aviv it's like a big party. We have music, we have fun. We are glad to be here but it isn't fun… we're looking over our shoulders all the time, wondering if it will become violent," said David Etkes, a Tel Aviv University student participating in the event. "We came here because we wanted to show Jerusalem that they can't scare the gay community. Jerusalem must learn to accept us, too."

The article goes on to say that the gay parade was seen by observers as much more subdued than its counterparts in cities like Paris, and that a few religious demonstrators managed to infiltrate the parade and heckle participants before being escorted away by police. Meanwhile, Arutz Sheva reports that leading rabbis are moving away from encouraging any kind of counter-demo:
Leading hareidi-religious rabbis say that anti-Gay Pride Parade protests should be put on a low burner. "Prayers are more effective than rallies," they say.

Rabbi Shmuel HaLevy Vozner, Rabbi Nissim Karelitz, and other leading rabbinical sages in Bnei Brak have issued a statement against participation in the "protests and similar events" against the upcoming gay-pride parade in Jerusalem.

The homosexual march is scheduled to take place along King David St. in Jerusalem on Thursday at 5 PM, followed by a rally at 8 PM. Some 7,000 policemen will be on hand to try to neutralize violence, though Jerusalem Police Chief Ilan Franco says he has no illusions that the event will be "violence-free."

"We again warn regarding the gathering of youngsters in the streets of Bnei Brak for protests and similar events," the rabbis wrote, "and we hereby present our position, the position of Torah, that the Sages are not pleased with these gatherings, and whoever studies Torah should guard himself and stay away from them."

The rabbis even say that it is known that the organizers are reckless and "do not have fear of G-d opposite them, and joining up with them is a spiritual danger... A significant number of them are not yeshiva students, but youngsters from other towns who are looking for an excuse to go wild, burn trash bins and destroy public property... Our strength is in our mouths, in prayer to G-d that He will bring down a spirit of purity to enable us to serve Him truly." ...

In other words, what has happened was exactly what needed to happen: both sides have learned to assert their beliefs and values in a civilized way - and they have learned to live with each other. And that is all that anybody could expect.

And this is how it works in a civilized society. Protesters may sometimes get carried to extremes in the heat of the moment - for example, the Haredi demonstrations in past years, or the original Stonewall riots - but ultimately they understand that it is in their own best interests to reach out to the community through dialog.

Contrast this with the mayhem that occurred in Gaza with the takeover by the islamist fanatics of Hamas. Ha'Aretz reports that some Palestinians are seeing the irony in being forced to flee to Israel:
"There were five of them. They stood over me and shot my legs from the knee down. One of them put his Kalashnikov to my head. Instinctively I moved the barrel aside and the bullet hit my hand," Shadi told Haaretz yesterday. He arrived at Ichilov with one leg amputated and the other leg crushed.

"I wanted to shoot myself for voting Hamas," another patient said. He came with his brother, who had been shot in the head while evacuating wounded people in his taxi. "We really believed Hamas would change things," he said. ...

Later yesterday, Zecharia Alrai, 39, an officer in Fatah's elite Force 17 commando unit, arrived. He had been abducted by four Hamas gunmen a week ago. They loaded him into a jeep and drove him to an isolated spot, where they shot three bullets into his leg and dumped him.

"That's not Islam. That's evil and hypocrisy. How ironic that Israel is rescuing us from our Muslim 'brothers,'" he said.

Like Gay Patriot West and Nate Nelson, I'm skeptical of the concept of "gay pride" as such; I think it's better to be able to be proud of one's achievements. Israel - a free, strong, and democratic state surrounded by hostile dictatorships, and a nation where the most widely divergent views can find open expression - has much to be proud of.
The same profundity and precision which in the past was achieved via zeal and passion ("rit'cha d'oraita"), will be achieved in the future through the spiritual strength of gentleness and equanimity. Then the light of the sukkah of peace will encompass the Jewish people and those nations of the world who gather from afar to the holy city of Jerusalem.